Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Shift in focus helps build better education

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Aug. 17, 2013 at 3:17 a.m.

The state's Texas Education Agency results are in, and the message is clear for the Victoria Independent School District. VISD was one of the 6.5 percent of Texas districts and charter schools that failed to meet state standards.

At first glance, this sounds like grim news, and it is disappointing, to be sure. But on closer examination, the district missed an acceptable rating by only one point because the state chose to use the test results from American Indian students instead of the district's much larger Hispanic population in the closing of performance gaps category. This strange choice is based on the 2011-12 testing scores, when the two lowest-performing ethnic groups were African-American and American Indian students. Unfortunately, VISD had only 22 American Indian students last year, which means that even though the students improved from the previous year, there were not enough students to meet the state's 25-student requirement for the numbers to count.

Common sense would point to the substitution of the next lowest-performing group to fill that hole, but the state's system does not work that way. However, Diane Boyett, VISD communications director, said the state will use numbers from this year's two lowest-performing ethnic groups, African-American and Hispanic students, in next year's evaluation.

"Because it's a progress measure, it looks at prior years to see if you are closing that gap," Boyett said. "That's the whole idea - that everybody moves up."

This overly complex, bureaucratic system is frustrating to see. But amid this frustration, there is a silver lining that shows VISD has some work to do, but the district is not losing ground. In 2011, both high schools were rated academically unacceptable, according to the state standards of the time. This year, both high schools met standards. And districtwide, VISD exceeded expectations in the other three categories: student achievement, student progress and college readiness.

Boyett credits the district's improvements to a few different factors. One is the growing familiarity with the STAAR test. Another reason is the districtwide shift in focus to turning all eyes on the needs of children in the classroom, which is emphasized in Superintendent Robert Jaklich's slogan, "Every Child, Every Classroom, Every Day."

Jaklich has led the way in this shift, Boyett said, and has emphasized principals should be the instructional leaders on campus, and the role of the district's central office is to develop materials and keep the learning environment free from distractions. Teachers are focusing on not just teaching but also building relationships with their students and passing on their passion for learning and education to each child. This focus on meeting the needs of children and offering positive reinforcement has also resulted in fewer disciplinary referrals on district campuses.

"I know we're improving, and I only see good things ahead," Boyett said.

We applaud VISD for this refreshing shift in focus to meet the needs of students across the district. This return to the true purpose of schools is exciting to see, and we look forward to seeing VISD improve even more next year and in the years to come.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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